“If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love.”

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If you know me well, you know I love Jon Foreman’s music. In one of his songs he wrote something that haunts me: “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love.” I have agreed and disagreed with this many times over the years. I have wrestled and screamed and cried at times, trying to figure out what love really is. How do I know I’m offering it? How do I know I’m experiencing it? What am I doing that’s keeping me from receiving it? These are mostly rhetorical questions I never fully answer for myself, yet there are some things I’ve found to be true for me in some ways.

Every anniversary that comes around, I get sappy and think/feel deeply about love. It’s something that every human inherently longs for. Its something that moves us internally and externally in ways that is difficult to give words to. It’s something that shapes the way we view and enjoy relationships more than most things. It’s something that if we go without in our first few years of life, our physical and psychological development is greatly altered. And yet, we continue to be amateur lovers in many ways (another Jon Foreman lyric 😊). I don’t want to be an amateur, which is why I’m writing this. I want to make sense of what I’ve learned over the years and share it, as I’m convinced that learning something then trying to communicate about it is a great way to “get” something deeply. So here’s my offering about love for those who care and who are tired of living in a world of amateur lovers. It starts with me. It starts with you.

Love demands vulnerability. It demands that we do not stay closed in our thinking and feeling, and challenge ourselves to be exposed, an exposure that exposes our own shit and not pointing out others shit. Vulnerability is me opening myself up to another person or group and allowing others to see me for who I am, the good and the ugly… not hiding or pretending, spending endless energy proving my goodness. That’s fraudulent behavior that keep me from being able to love and from receiving love. People will see goodness on their own, if indeed we aren’t pretenders. Love demands vulnerability. If you’re being vulnerable with someone, it’s likely you are experiencing the power of love.

Love demands listening. Listening to another person or group allows us to slow down long enough to see another’s perspective or reality. Listening allows us to learn new things outside of our myopic view of life and experiences. Listening allows us to know in ways that we didn’t know before. Listening allows to us see that others views and experiences really do matter and are worth valuing and possibly incorporating into our new view. Even when listening leads us to seeing that we disagree with another, if we’re listening vulnerably, then we can’t hate that person even though we disagree with them. If someone has taken the time to truly listen to you and hear you out, you’ve likely experienced love. Love demands listening.

Love demands sacrifice. This happens in small ways every day, and will also demand very big sacrifices at times. In relationships, if you’ve experienced love, then you’ve given of yourself in ways you didn’t want to. I’m not talking about abusive ways, that’s not love. I’m talking about a giving up of dreams at times, considering others before yourself at times, and delaying your own gratification at times. Love demands we stay with those who are suffering and are alone. Many of us have experienced abandonment in these times, and its one of the worst betrayals because it’s from someone we thought loved us, but was not able to make the journey of pain with us. Love demands we stand with the oppressed, fight for justice, even if the injustice hasn’t directly affected our own lives. It is in this space that we often experience broken hearts because of love. If you have sacrificed like this for someone or someone has sacrificed like this for you, you have likely experienced love. Love demands sacrifice.

Lastly (and obviously this is not an exhaustive list), love demands seeing the other as their own and equal. This might be one of the foundations of loving. When this does not happen, abuse takes place. Seeing oneself as the owner of another’s body, mind, will is at the root of evil. Not seeing another as their own is to take a stance of elitism that leads one to believe they can do what they want with you. When one does not think others are equal, the opposite of love takes place. Yet when people are seen as their own and as equals, great safety and trust is built, and at the heart of love (intimacy, connection) is safety and trust. How can one truly be vulnerable and listen when there’s no safety or trust? Yet in the presence of safety and trust, great freedom and joy and peace can be experienced. In the presence of safety and trust, we can experience the joy of all kinds of intimacies if you know what I mean 😉. As a therapist, I have seen many loving relationships trying to navigate togetherness, yet one partner is not able to see the other person has their own out of fear of that person hurting them with their freedom. This is why love is dangerous, because if we are going to open ourselves up vulnerably, listen to them, be willing to sacrifice for them, and see them as their own, I am giving the other person that I am loving the ability to greatly harm me as well. This is one of the dangers of love. Yet, as CS Lewis puts it, in my own words, if we protect ourselves from love, we will find that we have guarded our heart so much so, that it becomes buried very deep into the ground, and there it grows hard and impenetrable. If you see another person as their own and respect them as an equal, you have shown love. Love demands seeing others as their own and as equals.

Love is the greatest drug. I dream of the day when humans become addicted to living out love. It keeps you coming back for more. It’s euphoric and full of a beautiful kind of pleasure that allows something deep and intimate and erotic to take place within intimate, committed relationships. And within non-erotic loving relationships, it offers peace and safety that allows for the diversity of each one of us as well as the accountability to others who aren’t being loving (which is a whole different post in and of itself).

Here’s to becoming lovers who aren’t amateurs anymore and to pressing into a kind of love that breaks our hearts and moves us into the burdens and pains of others.

19 Years!

For over 21 years I have shared life with this beautiful woman. 19 years ago today, we wed. There are moments in life where words fall short in their ability to explain or describe the joy and contentment of walking through beauty, struggle, change, and uncertainty with the person you love. She knows me better than anyone else on this earth… she’s seen my ugliest days and moments… has experienced pain because of my choices, words, looks, and neglect, and she still loves me. She must be crazy. Or I must have lucked out in convincing her to share life with me because I’m a richer man today because of my relationship with her.

I believe wealth is found in loving relationships, where people know how to care for themselves and others, and can set appropriate boundaries so people are protected and are still vulnerable to experience love. Today I celebrate, like many other days throughout the year, the love between my wife and I which truly is like a fine wine, or a great bottle of aged scotch, or heck, maybe even an aged bottle of Trader Joe’s special ale (it’s really good!). There truly is no secret to a relationship of love and intimacy that can last over time. There’s no one book or study or step-by-step program that teaches you how to maintain and sustain rich love. Rich love is experienced when commitment and sacrifice are present, and you either choose to notice it and enjoy it in the moment or you choose to see or want something different and totally miss it. This kind of love is shown all the time within our family as well. The joy of it is captured in this photo.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I believe love is caught more than taught, and it is found to be most powerful in the midst of suffering, confusion, and grief. Yeah, I know, I don’t really like that previous statement, but it’s what I know to be true. Coming out on the other side of those things with the one you love, is greater than any drug. It keeps you coming back for more. It’s euphoric and full of a weird kind of pleasure from making it through something difficult, that then allows something deep and intimate and erotic to take place, and it’s good.

Our love has been far from perfect, but it has been good! I would do these 19 years with her all over again and I look forward to the next 19… hopefully with much more wisdom and less foolish mistakes. 😊

Happy 19th Anniversary to us!

Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

Leadership in America

Leadership is an important thing in the life of an entity, especially a nation. There’s a lot of talk these days about wanting a good, virtuous leader to be our commander in chief. The problem is, we all have a different idea of what it means to be virtuous and good. Many point back to our founding fathers and say that we need those kind of leaders. Below is a quote from James Madison, one of the chief architects of our original constitution:

Being Faithful in the Darkness

Darkness is a weird thing. In our Christian worldview, it never seems to be used positively, as if it only represents evil. Well, it seems I’ve been in darkness (or a fog or some kind of unknowing) for a while and I don’t believe it’s because of my unbelief or anything like that. My tendency in life is to assume that if life is dark and dreary, there must be sin in my life, or the “evil one” must be causing this darkness.

This certainly can be true of darkness at times, but is it always the case. Can darkness be good? Could God be the one leading me into the dark? After all, it was Jesus who led his disciples at an hour of darkness, to boat across to the other side of the the great sea.

So as I ponder this darkness, the ways of God, and the position of my heart and mind, I believe it must be dark because there’s something in the dark that I can only learn here, where the lights are off, and clarity is not a close friend. 

Let’s take a moment and frame darkness positively… I can see stars at night only because the dark sky and the moon looks much more extravagant with a dark back drop. I sleep (and rest) better in the dark; I usually don’t labor physically when it’s dark either. I love the coolness of the dark in the spring and fall in Phx. 
The darkness is refreshing after 115 degree heat all day in the summer, even if it’s still 100 degrees at midnight. Darkness gives plants and animals rest from the scorching sun all day. Fires and fireworks are much more enjoyable in the dark. The darkness humbles me as it exposes who I really am–all my fears, insecurities, and it also gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that the day of toiling is over and it’s time to rest. 

Those are some things I’m realizing that are better in the dark, so maybe this season of darkness that isn’t lifting (for over 2 years) is more purposeful than I believe it to be. I hope it is, but I have to admit that I hate it at times. I’m tired of being in this place of unknowing that only offers a visibility of 24 hours or less. I long for something new and fresh, something to come in and sweep me off my feet, something that is more intimate and deeper than ever before. Yet, even as I write this, I’m reminded that deeper almost always means darker before it can be translated into something good. The deeper you dive into the ocean, the darker it gets, and some of the most precious pearls are forged in the pressures of deep, dark waters. But those places are scary and not desirable, unless there’s a guide, a trained professional to lead me down there. 

This is where God’s role comes into play, as well as a community of friends and family, counselors, spiritual guides, etc… who are courageous enough to walk with you and sit with you on the bottom of the ocean, patiently, not rushing your time or season in the dark. God will make his bed in Sheol for his children.

I hate the pain and fear of the dark and God’s seeming silence is horrible. It’s as if I’ve had years of tender care as an infant and toddler and now God, as a good parent, re-fathering me if you will, is putting me up on my two feet and telling me to walk, trust, to remember that I’m done nursing and I need to trust that he’s always near me even when it’s dark and he’s silent and I can’t see his face, or even see what tomorrow holds. I hear him saying, “I’ve got this Jeff. Trust who you’ve become. Be patient and faithful in the darkness. I will not disappoint you.” And my heart’s response is “Ok, I don’t want to refuse you anything you ask God, but I have to be honest, I have fear and doubt and need you to meet me at those places.” 

So for now, darkness is a companion, one I don’t want to scorn or make to be an enemy of light, nor do I want to wrongly celebrate. But I think maybe it’s only through being in the dark for long periods of time where we can actually long for the true light. Or maybe it’s in the dark where we learn that the true light is in us already, and we can be okay when darkness comes and stays for a while. Maybe darkness wasn’t meant to be a bad place. After all, it was darkness that arrived first in the Genesis narrative, and all that God had made was good. Who knows? 

St. John of the Cross likens darkness in the life of someone pursuing Christ as moments of mysterious and divine closeness. He likens it to the sun, if it were to be stared into with our eyes, it would make our senses go dark, but that wouldn’t mean the sun stopped shining; it just means that our senses are limited and can only take in so much light until God graciously clouds his presence, so as to not overwhelm or destroy us. 

I trust this graciousness today and hold onto the hope that the light is always shining, and my senses are being refined more and more to take in this beautiful, life-giving light.